Eunice Kennedy Shriver had a dream more than 40 years ago. She wanted a program that would allow people with intelectual disabilities (mental retardation) participate in sports like everyone else.

That vision allows six area athletes to compete in their own Olympic Games.

This weekend, May 23-25, Dana Simmons, 32, of Orangefield, Ben Comeaux, 16, of Bridge City and Kara Paskell, 36, of Vidor will compete, playing tennis, in the State Special Olympics Competition for Orange County at the University of Texas in Arlington’s Maverick Stadium. There are three other athletes from area five that will attend, Charles Wilson, 49, from Silsbee, David McLean, 21, also from Silsbee and Katia Picou, 23, form Lumberton.

Special Olympics provides sports training and athletic competition for individuals with intellectual disabilities based on the Olympic tradition and spirit. Shriver’s vision was realized in 1968 when Chicago was the site of the first International Special Olympics Summer Games.

Special Olympics came to Texas in 1969. The first Summer Games were hosted at Paul Tyson Stadium in Waco, June 6-7, 1969 with 350 athletes competing in 10 track and field events.

With 24,675 athletes, offering 21 sports at more than 200 competitions, Special Olympics Texas is one of the largest Special Olympics programs in the world.

Comeaux started to compete in Special Olympics when he “aged-out” of Little Dribblers at 14. He also participated in Bridge City Little League tee-ball when he was younger, but left when it changed to coach pitch because they didn’t have the patience that was needed and he didn’t feel wanted.

The beauty of Special Olympics is that “he will never ‘age-out’, he’ll be able to play forever,” said his mother, Edie Comeaux.

Simmons has participated in Special Olympics since the program was available locally at Beaumont State Center. When the center became Spindletop MHMR it dropped the program.
There are over a hundred athletes that participate locally in various events.

Bowling had approximately 70 participants this season.

After the conclusion of tennis, the athletes will start training for aquatics and Bocce.

There is no age limit on participation. Anyone who is intellectually disabled is welcome to join in.

Some of the Olympians would like to participate in golf, basketball, and baseball, but at this time, no trainers are qualified to teach those sports in the local group.

They are always in need of volunteers and coaches.

“There is great potential in this area,” said Jimmie Lea Simmons, Dana’s mother.

“We have had great growth recently,” Edie added. She also said that there would be even greater growth if more coaches would volunteer.

Sheila McInnis has helped teach not only the athletes, but is teaching the parents so they can become coaches. There is a certification process you go through to be a coach, but anybody can do it.

“I don’t have an athletic bone in my body,” said Edie.

Jimmie Lea nodded in agreement, “I never was very athletic,” she said.

They really stressed the need for volunteers. Right now, sports offered locally is tennis, aquatics, bocce, bowling. Other sports that could be offered if coaches were available are: Athletics (track and field), Basketball, Cycling, Equestrian, Figure Skating, Golf, Gymnastics, Kayaking, Powerlifting, Roller Skating, Sailing, Soccer, Softball, Speed Skating, Table Tennis, Triathlon and Volleyball.

Ben and Dana were busy getting a last practice in Monday before they leave for the weekend. They shouted for joy every time they hit the ball.

 Paskell was home packing.

In Special Olympics, everybody wins. Each participant receives a medal or ribbon following his/her event.

Any age can volunteer. Those 8-14 years must have a parent of guardian with them. Children seven and under are encouraged to be cheerleaders.

Special Olympics Texas is good about supplying equipment and a grant from the Stark Foundation helped buy uniforms and paid registration fees for local athletes. There is no charge for local participation, but there is a $25 fee per athlete at the state level to pay for the venues. They have almost depleted the grant money and can always use donations. Special Olympics is a registered 501(c)(3), non-profit organization and “the most credible charity in America” according to a survey in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

For more information on Special Olympics or to volunteer check out their website, or call Edie Comeaux at 409-738-2110 and Jimmie Lea Simmons at 409-768-1554


About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.